Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Are RPGs racist?

Zenobia - Dark elf
Zenobia – Dark elf (Photo credit: JBLivin)
Next time your setting up a character’s race in Skyrim (great game) or some other RPG maybe ask yourself the question, “would this be okay if he was black”? I mean really think about it.
Pick a minority, say Jews, well they of course have bonuses to their barter skills, but then I want to play fighter so I better pick a Black guy, or maybe I’ll play a mage, so I have to go for an Asian – they have bonuses to their intelligence.
It’s really not okay, is it?
Baby orc, baby night elf
Baby orc, baby night elf (Photo credit: Nicole Lee)
If you think about it we’re being real dicks to all of the people of Tamriel and Middle earth. We’re basicly saying all Orcs must be
good at running. What about some poor little Orc that wants to be a mage, are we saying he’ll always be sub-par to an elf?
Maybe the whole fantasy race thing is just a way of getting round what would be rather divisive issue. It might also partly explain why there are very few modern world RPG’s.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

South America – Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay back to Argentina

The trip has been going well so far. It been a nice enough journey and I’ve met a few nice people on the way. But I’m still waiting for something to really wow me.

I enjoyed my two couch-surfing experiences in Uruguay. The first was with a really nice Yoga instructor, Fabiana. I was certainly surprised at my first couch-surfing accommodation. My own room with a double bed and ensuite bathroom, was not what I was expecting. Still we do have to rough it sometimes.
The weather wasn’t great at the start, but we were able to stay in and chat, and we took a little run down town and got some food together and had a quick look at the centre. The day after was much nicer and Fabiana was able to borrow a car and she drove us out to the beach where I got to try surfing for the first time. I even managed to stand up on the board on the second attempt. It’s something I will have to try again. The day after that I borrowed her bicycle and went a ride along the water front. It was a nice day and a good little ride.

Montevideo is a very nice city. The beaches run all the way along the front and I could imagine it would be a nice place to live. I did look into doing work with international house and I could have got a job there, but it would have been by the hour, which sounded a bit too similar to what I was doing in Argentina and I really hated the spit shifts and the lack of security.
After Montevideo I made my way along to coast to my next couch-surfing destination. I was in a small town called Punta Bellan, but it wasn’t from Maldonado and Punta del Este. Here I was staying with Luciana and her two kids.
This time I had my own room again and mattress on the floor, which was nice. The house was great. It was in village next to a forest park about 20km from the town. For heating there was a log fire. There was a dog and a cat (that kind of acted like a dog) that were really nice. Despite the dog being shy we bonded really quickly. She had really nice eyes, one blue one brown. The cat would often sneak into the house and come and sit on my lap and purr.
I arrived late after noon a Luciana picked me up from the station and we went for a walk in the park. Again we got on well and she was very interested in eastern mysticism, so it was nice to hear a lot about that, and I was surprised to find that there was a little ashram near by.
The next day Luciana took me along with the kinds on a drive along the coast and we stopped a few little towns and seen various sites. It was nice trip. The kids were also nice, although they argued from time to time. I got on really well with the younger one and she liked to play games where she climbed and jumped about. The older girl was more stand-offish but still friendly enough.

Sadly on the second day the youngest girl got a little sick and so Luciana had to stay at home with her. I walked down to Punta del Este which is a holiday town that the Argentinians like to go to. The weather was a bit rough again and it was quite a cold wind. I had thought about going to Roacha – my first host had practically demanded that I go. But the expensive of Uruguay and the thought of freezing on the beach put me off.
So the day after I decided to head back the way and then North. It took a long time. I took a bus back to Montevideo and then another bus up to the border city of Salto. In Salto I crossed the border into Argentina and from there I got a bus up to Foz de Igauzu. On the way I was lucky enough to me another traveller who was heading the same way. A Uruguayan guy called Daniel. He’s studying in Iguazu and was heading back. It really helped for getting the bus up to Igazu as navigating all the different bus companies can be a bit of a challenge.
About twenty seven hours after leaving Punta del Este I arrived in Iguazu. It had been a long journey and here I made a small mistake. I had seen a hostel, home sweet hostel, in the guide book (I couldn’t find somewhere to couch surf there). To get to the hostel I passed a few other nice looking places, but when I got to the place I had planned to enter there was a building works out the front. For some reason I checked in anyway with the rather unfriendly staff and paid for two nights. I was show to the room – a place with a broken door and easy access from the front gate that was never locked. When I went for a shower the water ran brown for five minutes first. I’m still not sure why I checked in there. But at least it was a little cheaper than the other places.
After checking in, I got on a bus to the waterfall park. It’s a really impressive sight and walking along the gangway across the river to get to falls themselves is also nice. I was luck here and met a couple of friend, one from Malaysia and one from Singapore. We went around the park together and then had dinner late. It was nice to have some company.

The next day I was off again. I left the hostel without a word (I didn’t see the point in fighting over a day’s rent and I doubt I would have got it back anyway.) I had thought of saying on another day, but the only thing to really do in Iguazu was the park. So I got on a bus and crossed the border into Paraguay. I think I was even in Brazil for a little time as well.
Here there was another mistake. On entering Paraguay the bus didn’t stop at immigration. So I’m here without a stamp and it might cost me a little to get out.
I stopped in Ciudad del Este for a few hours. I really liked this city. I was a rough market town. It reminded me of a Chinese market it a way. Lots of hustle and bustle and people selling real, but sometimes random, things. I got some socks, because I hadn’t been able to wash mine, and a cap because I burnt my nose in Montevideo. Another thing I liked here were the performers that came onto the road every time the lights turned red. At each stop sign the were be random things like jugglers and a troupe with hullahoops – some of them were very good. They’d perform for the cars then try and get a little money before the lights changed. Nice city but I felt that a couple of hours were enough and the same day I was off to Asunción.
We arrived a little late at the terminal in Asunción. I had heard there were hostels there, but guide book didn’t have any listed so I asked at tourist information on found one that sounded nice. It was called circus hostel. It’s next to an old railway station near Plaza Uruguay. I got there a little late and the place was dark. I pressed the buzzer and young guy came out to meet me and took me into the place. It was very quite. I was the only guest. Still it meant I got a dorm room to myself. At the time I couldn’t figure out why it was so quite, because it’s a really nice hostel, with nice staff.
20130926_114859I had a good time in Asunción I walked about, took some pictures and went to the cemetery. It’s a nice place. Very chilled out. It also turned out there was going to be an event on just outside the hostel in the old train yard. It was run by an English/South African girl and her Paraguayan husband. So I decided to break the bank and little and a have a party night. I met up with an English girl from couch-surfing who was volunteering there and we had a drink then went to the event. It was really nice, great people and good food and I generally had a nice time. However, near the end I started to feel like more of an outside. I thinks it’s normal as they are all living there and I’m just passing through. So when they all went for a smoke I declined and went out to have a look at the rest of the city. It was a nice night and I had fun. But the next day I was up early (I don’t know how) and ready to hit the road.
I’m on my way to Salta now. I before I mentioned why the place was so quite? Well buses might be the reason. I’ve having to go south quite a bit to be able to travel North again. It’s also going to mean a change of buses. So I guess that dead end puts off a lot of people.
So the trip had been fine. A lot of nice things. The falls were probably the most impressive sight, but I’m not overly impressed by South America. I think I just expected it to be more different, in the same way as when I went to China for the first time. Also things are much more expensive here than I thought they would be. Buses are not cheap and the distances from place to place is more than I really realised. It often seems like a lot of time sitting on buses for a small reward.
That said I’m hopeful about going North. Peru and its ruins is really attracting me. I’ve also heard that it’s a good deal cheaper than here. I can only hope.
PS: It cost me $50 to get out of Paraguay with no stamp.

Monday, 16 September 2013

South America – Getting to Uruguay

South America – Getting to Uruguay

Map of the Río de la Plata, showing cities in ...
Map of the Río de la Plata, showing cities in Argentina and Uruguay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If my last post wasn’t clear enough, I wasn’t too happy in Buenos Aires. So I decided to quit and move on.  I wont be doing the Delta course this year and instead I’m just going to travel. It might be a terrible idea, but there is no point wasting my life in a city I don’t enjoy.
The plan is to go through Uruguay, back into the north of Argentina and then further north to Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru.
Anyway I set off this morning and I am now in Montevideo. It was a bit touch and go for a while. Today I took a taxi down to the port and the driver took me to the wrong ferry port – Buquebus. Luckily I had left enough time to get to the ferry. Of course when we arrived at the terminal for the right ferry, ” Colonia Express” , the ship had been cancelled due to bad weather (Sorry no refunds). So then I had to take another taxi back to the Buquebus ferry terminal and pay full ticket prices (it’s cheaper if you book in advance).  Meaning that I paid full price for the ferry I took as well as the price for the ferry I didn’t.
Another couple that were in the same boat (or not in the case) said we could contact the bank and tell them to refund the transaction. It might be worth a try.
So a ferry and a bus later I’m in a very wet Montevideo. I’m couchsurfing ( and staying with girl who seems very friendly and the place seems really nice. So while to BA side was bad, I have a positive feeling about the trip.
The only thing getting in the way are thoughts about jobs. It seems September was the start time for most of the jobs I would have liked and it will be Jan/Feb before  schools are looking for people again. There are jobs RIGHT NOW, but that would mean not seeing South America, which would be a shame after coming all this way. I think I’ll just put things of the back burner for now and see what happens with what I’ve applied for. Otherwise I can maybe stop somewhere along the way and do a little work to keep me going until the hiring season.
For now I will explore Montevideo and start planning the next leg of the trip.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A series of random (and sometimes unfortunate) events

OpenStreetMap Logo
OpenStreetMap Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It’s been a while since I last posted an update. Mainly because things have been a bit hectic and I haven’t really had time to sit down a sort out my own thoughts, but the story goes a little like this:

I returned to the UK after Indonesia with the intention of doing a PGDE (teaching qualification) at the university in Aberdeen. It had been quite a challenge to get into the school and get funding, mainly because of the distance and because I had been living outside the UK for so long. In the end, however, I was accepted.

I went back home and lived with my Gran for a bit and found a little job teaching English in Glasgow. It was a fairly nice time as I got to meet up with people, like my friend Paul who I hadn’t see for some time. I also got to see my family again – I had been unsure about living with my Gran but we ended up getting on really well. I also got a chance to meet up with my Dad for the first time in many years, which all seemed to work out well.

Despite all this, after a short time back in Glasgow I was ready to leave again. In part this was itchy feet, in part I was bored and in part it was the grim place that is Glasgow. I was excited about the idea of going to Aberdeen, but worried as well that it would be the same story as Glasgow – that is unimaginative people and generally grim situation all round -with a few exceptions of course.

I needn’t have worried. Shortly before going onto the course I got a phone call from Aberdeen telling me that the course I was planning to study had been cancelled due to their not being enough students enrolled. I have to admit I was disappointed, but it opened up a lot of opportunities and I found myself considering a whole world – quite literally – of options.

In the end my choices were narrowed down to returning to Indonesia; going to the middle east to make some cash or going to south America and chancing my luck. The Indonesia option was appealing on many levels. I like the place and the school, but I think my wander lust was pulling me in other directions. Saudi was tempting on some levels, not least as I could save up a little for my masters. However, the whole male/female separation did not sound fun. The south America idea was also tempting, not least because I could wait unit January and save up to do the DELTA course there.

Then a fourth option came up. A chance to go to Canada and see and old friend. So in the spur of the moment I decided to give that a go and ended up in Canada for three weeks. The trip had some nice moments and I even got a chance to visit the USA and I went to a casino for the first time – what tourist could resist going to an Indian casino? My friend even managed to win a couple of hundred dollars after playing the slots for a few minutes.

The trip, of course, came to an end and I found myself flying south to Buenos Aires in Argentina, where I still am now. I’ve been able to find a place to stay – although it’s a massively over priced box in a shared house. I’ve also found work with a couple of companies doing freelancing. I have to say, it’s not what I’m used to. The pay is terrible and it’s impossible to work out how much I’ll have each month as classes are often moved or cancelled (I don’t get paid if they give more than 24hrs notice). I’ll need to sit down an work it out, but I’m not sure I can afford to stay here with the amount coming out and going in. Argentina has massive inflation problems at the moment. It seems I couldn’t have picked a more “interesting” time, financially speaking

That said I enjoy the classes. It’s nice to be teaching adults again and the students I teach seem to be quite interesting people. Most of the work I’m doing is with mid-high up people in big companies like HSBC and Johnstone and Johnstone, which is something new for me. The people at the schools seem nice as well, but I miss the security of a proper job.

I’m also a little disappointed by BA itself. It seems like a regular slightly run down European city. I guess I was hoping for something more foreign. Or at least something with more of a South American flavour.

My plans for the DELTA also hit a familiar rut. I had been planning to do it as a distance course for the first of three modules and do the rest as an intensive in January/February. Of course, after I arrived I got a familiar sounds email which said something to the effect of delta one course being cancelled because there are not enough people – where had I heard that before?

So what am I doing here? Well it’s a good question and one I’ve asked myself quite a lot in the past couple of weeks. On one side, I don’t want to be too hasty. The work has been picking up and I have lots of classes now and city wise I get the feeling that there might be a lot of interesting people and places here if I could break the surface – maybe once my Spanish improves? There is also the option of doing all three DELTA modules in January and February – that is if I have enough money left and the course is not cancelled. So I guess I just need to wait and see what happens at the end of the first month or so.

Saying that, I’m also keeping an eye on the job boards to see if anything interesting comes up. If someone offers me an interesting well paid job, I’ll probably get on a plane.

Monday, 3 June 2013

There’s nothing wrong with being unhappy.

My Philosophy Bookshelf(bottom)
My Philosophy Bookshelf(bottom) (Photo credit: jddunn)
I had a late night talk with some people the other day and they seemed astonished at the idea I was not blissfully happy with my life. Off the top of my head I had said I was about 60% – 40%, by which I was trying to say that I was generally more unhappy than happy.  In reflection this was probably wrong. Really I’m 30% – 30% with the 40 being “meh” – that’s neither good nor bad for those unfamiliar with the lingo.
Anyway, a large part of the rest of the night was spent “robustly” discussing the idea: One side saying that you can make yourself happy, by mindfulness and what not. The other side (me) saying that you have what you feel what you feel and that just because you pretend to be happy, doesn’t make it true. Interestingly enough it was a good argument at times with plenty of stomping about and offense – ironically enough this kind of thing makes me happy, so maybe 31%.
After it all, I still think the same thing, although I’m happy to have my mind changed. Here’s what I think:
1)      You feel what you feel and you cannot make yourself happy.
2)      There is nothing wrong with being unhappy.

Not sure if I should explain this, because I more interested in what others’ think, but I suppose I should just for clarity.
You feel what you feel and you cannot make yourself happy.
Is there such a thing as free will? It’s a big questions and I’m just going to skim around the edges, because I’m lazy today. What I want to say though is that even if there is such a thing as free will and choice, our ability to use it is very limited. I am who I am because of things that happened millions of years before I was born. Many of my feelings and thoughts come from a biological origin that I will never be able to alter – unless I can meet Dr Who and change the course of sun or something. Others come from my experiences – especially as a child: If I had watched “My little pony” more that I watched “He-man” maybe my life would be very different today. I’m also constantly affected by the behavior of my surrounding environment: if I don’t get the right things to eat and drink I get sleepy, cranky and become more of pain in the ass than usual.
In the end, after all this, what I end up feeling is really not up to me.
There is nothing wrong with being unhappy.
Oddly enough, the people who I was talking to seemed to be saying to use mindfulness as a way of being happy. Yet it seemed to miss the point in mindfulness. For me mindfulness is about experiencing what is there already, not hiding from it. If I feel unhappy then I should just be unhappy, if I feel happy, or angry, or horney, that’s okay. It’s the judging happiness as a good/bad thing that’s the problem.
I’ll throw in the over used arrow story here. A guy gets shot by and arrow and there is pain. He can’t stop that, it is what it is. But he can avoid more pain, by not judging the pain as a bad thing. The Buddha tells a more elaborate version, but I think that’s the point.
And unhappiness can be a good thing and it’s natural. Sure you don’t want to be stuck in it your whole life, but you don’t want to be suck in any emotion permanently – there is nothing more annoying than a person who is always happy; usually they’re idiots. However, being unhappy can be good motivator, it can help bring about change and can tell you when something is wrong.

There’s more I could say on these things, but I’ll leave it to people to join the dots. Agree or disagree, I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Can we create anymore?

Can we create anymore?

The Glass Bead Game
The Glass Bead Game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my favorite books is “The Glass Bead Game” by Herman Hesse.  I can only really describe it as cultural science fiction. The people in the future don’t really create culture anymore, they just manipulate it put it together using the bead game. It’s not a terrible future, but there is something sad about it.  In many ways it seems like this the way that things are going.

I was looking for a film to watch the other day and all I could really find were remakes of older films. It’s not even just remakes, now it’s remakes of remakes.”Spiderman” is good example. Having just finishing remaking the film with Toby Maguire, they’ve started again remaking the remakes with a new actor.

It’s not just straight remakes either. There are plenty of books and stories that are little more than retellings of the same tale with a different name.  I think I remember Steven King pointing out that authors like Terry Brooks are not really making their own new work, they’re just trying to rewrite the works of Tolkien that they love.

It does make me wonder, are we gradually losing the ability to create? Will we be left with only the glass bead game?

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Blurb – Help needed!

So I'm re-releasing Bardo and I'm also putting out a book of short stories. I think they're not too bad. However, I really need help with the blurbs. They're a big part of selling a book and I think it's a skill in itself to write them - a skill I just don't have.  Here's what I've got so far, any suggestions would be a big help:

The PM
The PMIt should have been the Prime Minister's first day in office. He should have been leading the country out of environmental disaster, but he’s not the only one who thinks he’s in charge.
The PM is a collection of short sci-fi and fantasy stories. It’s an eclectic mix of engaging fiction, inspiring ideas, humorous tales and daring adventure. In these fourteen stories, find out who’s really in charge in “The PM”, learn about the secret life of teaching in “Teacher without portfolio” and discover what dangers await in the depths, in the powder fantasy “Hold the line.”

BardoNikki finds herself in a world between realms, the Bardo, and time is running out. Soon her essence will be scattered forever. Can she pull herself together?
Bardo, follows Nikki, a young schoolgirl who has an unfortunate accident and finds herself trapped in the Bardo. It won’t be long before she'll be scattered across the realms. With only a dog to guide her, can she re-unite herself in time to escape? Fun, fast and humorous, Bardo asks questions about some deep issues, including who we really are, the nature of life and death and why schools insist on students wearing school uniforms when there are much more fashionable options available.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The oddity of a five day week.

Hamster wheel
Hamster wheel (Photo credit: sualk61)
This post might just be me being a lazy bugger, but is a five day working week really necessary?
I enjoy many things. For example, on the weekend I often go cycling and last night I went a run. I even manage to write some stuff now and again. However, if you asked me to do any of those things – note, things that I enjoy – a regimented eight hours a day five days a week, I would almost certainly start to dislike them. So why do we expect work to be any different?
I’m probably romanticising, but I’m guessing things wouldn’t have been like that back in the good old days when we lived in the forest and had a high chance of being eaten by something with big pointy teeth or dying horribly from a common cold. I guess in those times we worked when we had to, ie when we were hungry, and the rest of the time was pretty much up to us, leaving us to sit about grunting or poking the mysterious fire to our heart’s content. So why do we think that sitting in an office for forty hours a week is sensible?
And what is it we are working for exactly?
‘Well if we don’t work hard the economy will go into recession and that would be terrible!’ said a made up Tory politician (I’m pretty sure they say that kind of thing all time.)
But don’t they get it? The economy, money, recessions, they’re all made up! They don’t really exist. It’s just some convention that we’ve all agreed to work by and could just as easily stop working by and do sometime else instead. It would be like going to another planet and finding out that they worked only because if they didn’t the giant bunny rabbit of death would come and eat them. On further questioning we find that they are all perfectly sensible people and know that the bunny thing is… well… nonsense. ‘But that’s just the way we’ve all ways done things on this planet, so no point in changing that.’ So what it we are working for? I can understand a scientist, doctor or someone talking about the advancement of the human race etc, but for most of us our jobs are not like that and what we do is simply production for the sake of production with no real benefit to mankind what so ever. In fact with the way the environment is going we’re probably doing harm.
Another of those fallacies is that if we stopped forcing people to work, then nothing would get done, but again that is total nonsense. Just look at the internet and be proved wrong. A five minute search and you’ll find load of free programs, stories,games and music that people have spent a lot of time and effort making, not for financial gain, but because they wanted to. People are not lazy, we just think we are because we are so tired from working on stuff we don’t like all the time, but give people a month off and once they’ve spent a some time recovering, suddenly the urge to work will come and it wort be work :-(   it will be work :-) .
So here’s a not really thought out idea to consider. How about we take the jobs that people don’t really like doing (making shoes and cleaning sewers stuff like that) and divided them up between everyone in the country. Hopefully that works out as about three or four days a week for most. The rest of the days are then ours to work on doing whatever we want. You want to be a teacher, teach. You want to be a writer, write.  Okay so we might be a little less productive, but we’d certainly be a lot more happy.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Time to stop debating

I helped out with a little debate thing that was happening in the school recently. It was a bit of fun for the most part and reminded me of when I used to do debate with my university students in China, but I did kind of wonder if debates are actually a good idea.

One thing I’ve been trying to work on recently is changing as I get new information. It sounds really obvious, but so few people do it. Most of us just take the ideas that we have all ready and when something comes along to challenge that, we throw up a whole bunch of fortifications built with supporting evidence and gut feelings and argue it out as battle to be won, when we really should be listening to the other side and trying to find out what the truth of things is.

Politics is where you see it most. You’ll have some poor politician stuff towing the party line despite all the evidence going against them, but I’ve noticed it a lot of facebook and other social media recently as well.

Okay so I’m not saying we stop debating in school, but maybe we need to balance it out with a good deal  of tough arguments where students have to work together to come to a compromise based on evidence rather than just fighting for their side. Maybe that would be a lot more useful.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Mars One

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap vi...
Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap visible on the bottom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Decided to give the Mars one application a go. Why not? I mean my chances are low, but do you want to be sitting watching it ten years from now an know you never took the chance?
You can click below to see my application video.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Online petitions – A force for good?

38 Degrees members appear
38 Degrees members appear (Photo credit: 38 Degrees)

I’ve been signing a lot of online petitions recently. It started what seems like a long time ago with a 38 degrees petition to save the forests in England; a petition that actually seemed to have an effect. Since then there have been loads of them to sign, from saving bees to asking Starbucks to pay tax.
On the surface I doubt most people can really see anything wrong these petitions. They raise awareness of an issue and allow people to take some kind of action and express their feelings easily – almost too easily. And therein lies the rub. It’s really easy to sign a petition and think that your part has been done.
“No need to worry about the arms trade or the environment anymore, I’ve signed an online petition!”
Not sure what to think with online petitions anymore. It’s becoming clear that they are having less impact than they did at first and it seems that like protesting and letters to leaders, the people in charge will just nod, smile and do the opposite. Have online petitions started to have the opposite effect from what was intended? Do they just numb people to issues that they previously would have done something more about? I’m not sure.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

I’m Chris and I’m an addict.

Expanded coke zero can!
Expanded coke zero can! (Photo credit: Audin)
Now I know many people will say it’s not a real addiction, but recently I’ve been trying to give up or at least cut down on my caffeine and it’s been really hard. Much harder than I thought it would be.
My particular brand of addiction comes in the shape of a can of coke Zero. I never really got into coffee – thank god as that has crazy amounts of caffeine in it and I’d need to take out a loan to pay Starbucks’ prices – and while I drink tea from time to time, it just doesn’t seem to have the kick of a can of zero. For some reason that little black can just works for me. As a teacher I often throw one back between classes to keep my energy up and it’s not easy task getting through a hundred or so exam papers without that little jolt to keep me going, not to mention when I want to get a chapter done in a book, but it’s all got a bit out of hand recently. More and more I find myself drinking the stuff without really thinking about it and gradually it’s become my water; it’s time to start cutting down.
Thing is, it’s much harder than people think. Online I’ve read a lot of people complaining about the headaches that come with withdrawal and I’m glad to say while I’ve had a little, it’s not been anything too bad. The thing for me has been the sleepiness. I just feel so tired at the moment and it’s not the kind that you can just push through. It’s like when you’ve been up for two days straight kind of tiredness with weights pulling down your eyes and when you have to work, that’s really not a good thing.
I’d say the big thing that makes cutting down on caffeine so hard is to be surround by temptation all the time. Now, don’t get me wrong I’m sure giving up heroine it probably a little bit harder, but at least – for most people- they’d have to make a little bit of effort to get some. With caffeine it’s everywhere. In the school I just have to walk down a flight of stairs to get to my dealer and sometime people just give me some without asking. Although I’m sure in some parts of Glasgow that’s the same for a heroine junky.
One thing people have asked though is why do you want to give up? And the answer is I don’t really. It’s also part of the problem. As a veggi my diet is boring enough without cutting out caffeine, but I want it to be a choice rather than a compulsion. The thing is I know I can give up. Last year I gave up all soda for half a year, but what I really want to learn to do is manage it and getting that balance seems to be a lot harder for me and something I think I’m going to be wrestling with for some time to come.   

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Why I’m for independence

Category:History of Roman Catholicism in Great...
So, let me start by saying that whole idea of nationalism is just stupid.
Separating people into countries based on the random bit of dirt they happen
to be born on makes no real sense to me.

“You were born on this bit of land, congratulations you’re English. You were
born one meter outside of the border get away you scrounging foreigner!”

I’ve also lived in China where the nationalism can be a bit scary at times and
leaves people frothing at the mouth. Just mention some uninhabited island
that they have never seen, nor which will make any different to their lives and
some Chinese will happily throw themselves at the armies of the world. This is
all despite them being seemingly rational people before and not having known
island exited until a couple of years ago.

Therefore, it might be a bit of a surprise to some that I’ve ended up in the YES
camp when it comes to independence and I have to admit I’m a little surprised

Army (Photo credit: aka Quique)
myself. I’ve never voted SNP, I’m happy to call myself British and if you asked
me two years ago what I thought about independence, I probably would have
said that I wasn’t really for it or against it, but didn’t really see the point. So
why do I support independence now? In short, I like the picture that’s being
painted of the nation we could be.

Whether many people in the UK care to admit it or not, the British Empire is
at an end and it seems to me we have two choices: The first is that we can
accept that gracefully and cut down on our role on the world stage, or we
make fools of ourselves and spend a lot of money trying to pretend to the
world that Britain is still a superpower – anyone who has seen a recent Paul
McCartney video will know how embarrassingly bad the latter can be.

  It would

be great if the UK as a whole could accept that together, but if not, maybe an
independent Scotland can do it alone and that’s what I like about leaving the
UK: accepting ourselves as a small European country.

Why do we have to spend huge amounts to wage wars around the world
Nuclear Submarine HMS Vanguard Returns to HMNB...
Nuclear Submarine HMS Vanguard Returns to HMNB Clyde, Scotland (Photo credit: Defence Images)
where we are not wanted? Why do we need nuclear weapons? Why would we
want to stay part of a UK that constantly continues to isolate itself from all our
neighbours? We’re like that kid that everyone hates, but who they have to

play with because they live in the same neighbourhood. Every time we don’t
get our way we make a fuss and say we’re talking our ball back and we keep
insisting that we get special rules or we’re going to go tell our mum. So let’s
make a country in north where we’re prepared to work together with others
around us rather than always being in conflict.

The next reason is economics and, no, it’s not about the oil. The English
economy and the economies of other parts of the UK are different, but we
make rules that are designed with the sole purpose of helping the bankers
in London at the expense of everyone else. This is totally understandable, as
since the destruction of our industrial base, making up fake money is the only
real source of income the UK has left. However, it’s not good for the rest of
the country. If we became independent Scotland could make choices that are
suitable for our place in the world. Take tourism for example, which is a big
source of income in Scotland. I have lots of friends in Asia who want to do
big European trips and they want to go to the UK, but going to the UK means
double visas, so they don’t, they just go to Spain or France where they can
cross between the borders without the hassle.

Pelamis P2 wave energy device
Pelamis P2 wave energy device (Photo credit: Scottish Government)
Okay, and yes, there is the oil, but it’s finite. For me the oil money means
a green future. It means taking that money and using it to invest in clear
energy that we can sell to the rest of Europe – again something that’s easier to
develop if not controlled by the south.

The third big one for me is a chance for a better society. Anyone who has been
to Scotland and the rest of the UK will know that there are a lot of problems:
alcoholism, drugs and a large quantity of some not very nice people. We’re like
a drunken doctor with a festering arm, trying to tell the rest of the world how
to stay healthy. Again, if we stop trying to interfere in the rest of the world,
that would free up money and attention that we could focus on ourselves
and try to fix our own problems at home. In Scotland, let’s be honest, we’ve
got a tendency to blame the south for everything that goes wrong. We’re like
teenagers still living in our parent’s house, but as an independent country we

will have to take responsibility for our own problems, not just say, “It’s all your
Saltire flag in the wind
Saltire flag in the wind (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
fault” to England. Maybe then we can actually make some real changes and
for me that’s the biggest thing. It’s not working the way it is now. So let’s try

something different. So let’s take a chance! Let’s choose change!

Let’s vote YES!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

After Life (short story)

English: Painting of Gautama Buddha sitting in...
English: Painting of Gautama Buddha sitting in Dhyana, unharmed by the demons of Mara. Sanskrit Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra manuscript written in the Ranjana script. Nalanda, Bihar, India. Circa 700-1100 CE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Will you be leaving immediately,” he asked. His response was not what I hadexpected. I guess I thought he would try to persuade me to stay.
I don’t have much to take with me,” I answered, glancing up for the first time at the little monk I had once called master. He looked as serene as the Gautama statue in the monastery shrine.
Then you are free to leave in your own time,” he said. And for a moment I felt a pang of anger. Was this to be the end of it? Ten years as master and student and this is how he would let us part?
Don’t you want to know why? I asked, trying to keep the emotion from my voice.
Your reasons are your own,” he said.
His calmness infuriated me as much as it had eluded me. Didn’t he understand how hard I had tried? Didn’t he know how hard a choice it was for me to be giving up?
Very well,” I said standing up to leave and just then, for just a few seconds, he raised his head and looked straight at me. No words came, he didn’t need them. The placid little faced asked the question, “Are you sure this is what you really want?”
I paused for a moment feeling my breath rise and fall and knew that it was. And with that I walked away from my old life and old vows.

I left the Monastery alone. There would be no one there to meet me. I felt like a convict leaving a prison and it was true, I was a reformed character. There had been so much ego then when I had first entered the gates. I was going to become a monk and find enlightenment. I would leave my poor friends behind with all their worldly concerns. I hadn’t expected it to end in humiliation.
Now where was I? A failed monk wearing donated clothes and carrying the handful of cash they’d given me to see me on my way. I pulled out the notes I had crumpled into my pockets as I left. When I had first entered the monastery it would have been enough for a couple of days. Now I had no real concept of what it was worth. I would just have to make do.
I took one last look at the monastery building. It seemed odd in its Scottish country side setting. It’s semi-eastern design looking foreign against the misty hills, in a way I’d never noticed that before.
I started to walk down the country road that led to the village. Yet, despite my lack of funds and my wasted years, I started to smile. I felt light and the sun seemed brighter than it had in years. Birds few past, insects skittered, trees grew and I paid heed to none of them. I simply absorbed them all, breathing them in with each step. I was free. After ten long years I was free.
I’d been to the village before of course. The rules had not been so strict that we had been locked away in cells. Yet, as its little buildings came into view from the hills above, I felt like a conquistador coming across a new civilisation. What would I do there? Where would I sleep? All of these were unknowns, yet they didn’t seem to bother me.
The village was small, little more than a single main street with a few public buildings and several smaller roads darting of into short rows of housing on each side. The first building that caught my eye was the pub. It was a quiet little place made of old stone with a few picnic benches out the front. The sort of place where families could stop for a meal and beer after a long days walk.
I felt the cash in my pocket and decided I would take a look.
The inside of the place was much as I expected. There was a large fire place around which there were sets of tables and chairs. A few groups of tourist were eating their lunch. A couple of young waitress, possibly sisters, moved among them distributing and collecting plates as they went. At the far side of the room, through another little door, was a small bar. I could make out the mirror and the upturned whisky bottles waiting to be drained. Clearly the clientèle were the traditional sort who went for quality over price.
I made my way into the room, sitting down at one of the tall stools in front of the taps. Two older men, sitting in cramped table over on one corner, didn’t seem to notice me, but one man sitting at the bar gave me a half nod, before taking another sip of his beer.
A youngish boy appeared behind the bar and I ordered a random ale from the tap in front of me. The name had sounding appealing. He sat amber filled glass in front of me and I paid what he asked with one of the notes from my pocket. If the prices here were anything to go by, then the money I had wasn’t going to last me long.
I tried not to think of it as I lifted the glass to my lips. It would be my first drink in over fifteen years. I don’t know what I expected, the lightning bolts of my Catholic upbringing maybe? Instead there was just a pleasant but slightly bitter taste that brought back memories of old friends that I had long forgotten. I was suddenly nostalgic for my youth and all those unmet ambitions I’d had. Would I have achieved any of them had I not dropped out all together? Was there still time? There was a sense of possibility in the air.
Wife kicked you out?” asked the man beside me. I’d thought he was older, but now that I could see his face he seemed around the same age as me, maybe a little closer to forty than I was.
“More like I left her,” I said.
“Oh that’s not a good way to go. You’ll regret that in the end. God knows I did,” he said, taking a long drink of his beer. “What’d she do that was so bad?”
“I don’t know really,” I said, “It seemed right at first. I mean things really worked out at the start. I learned a lot, but we just hit a rut. The last few years, it’s just not been the same. In fact that’s the problem. It has been the same. Everyday has been the same. Nothing’s moved on. Nothing’s changed. Is there any point in staying together if you don’t grow?”
“Companionship?” he asked. “God know I miss my missus.”
“I’m not sure that’s enough.”
He stopped and examined me for a bit.
“We’re not really talking about a woman here are we?” And I have to admit, I was surprised at his intelligence.
“Not exactly, how did you know?”
“I don’t know, but something about you says you’re not a man who’s had to have a woman put up with him. There’s something single about you. That and your lack of hair. From the monastery?”
“I was.”
He glances at the ale on the bar.
I shruged.
“You know I’ve always wanted to know what goes on up in that place. I mean we’ve never had any trouble down here like, but you know, we wonder.” It was the first time I’d ever thought about the people in the village thinking about us. I’d always thought we were far away from the community, something separate.
It’s nice. Meditation, reading, chanting.”
“If it’s nice then what you doing here?” he asked. It was a good question.
“Like I said. Things just hit a rut. Is it any different from anything else in life?” I asked. “What do you do?”
“Farmer. There’s not much else around here to do. Farming and a bit of tourist stuff.”
“So would you be happy if things weren’t going anywhere on your farm?”
“They’re aren’t,” he answered. “I plant stuff, it grows, then I harvest. There’s not really anywhere to go with that. Cash is breaking even, so no chance to expand. Can’t say I have a problem with it though. Seems it takes a certain type of person to do what you did.”
“You mean join the monastery?” I asked.
“Aye. Giving up on love and life like that, takes a kind of commitment that I could never understand. I mean you’d have to really believe.”
“You have to really hope.”
“Well that as well.” he said, “So how long have you been out?”
“Since today,” I said, and he nods as if it’s a common situation. How many other failed monks had made the same journey I had, I wondered. I tried to remember a few of the names of people that had left before me and couldn’t think of one. Would I be forgotten in the same way?
“Stopping in here then heading back home? Got a family or something?”
“Not really, at least, no one I could stand right now. I didn’t leave on the best of terms with most of them. I think it would be best to describe my leaving as less than magnanimous. I got a bit caught up in things. I’m not sure I could take going back on my hands and knees just yet.”
“A man’s got his pride,” he said nodding, “So what you going to do then?”
“Who knows?” I said. “Today I had to leave. Tomorrow I can start thinking about the rest.”
He looks into his beer as if it’s going to answer the questions in his head.
“Tell you what,” he said, “I could do with a hand on the farm, wouldn’t pay much, but there was a girl staying in an old caravan out back. She left to go off to India or Thailand or something like that and left the old thing to pay her rent. Would take a bit of cleaning mind you, but you could move in there.”
It’s my chance to examine his drinking, but he seems sober enough.
“Well it seems too much like good fortune to say no,” I said. “I thought I was going to be spending the night in the open somewhere.”
“Well it’s not charity. It’s going to be hard work, but at least it’ll be something until you can get yourself back on your feet. By the way, my names Jim.”
“Padma..1” I started to say then stopped. “Craig,” I said for the first time in years. “My name’s Craig.”


He wasn’t lying about the work. In the monastery we had little jobs, or “practices” as we called them. It might have been some gardening or sweeping around the complex. Sometimes things would require a bit more work and we would have to paint or redecorate a shrine room, but everything was done calmly and mindfully.
On the farm it was about speed and timing. Everything had to be done in the right order and at the right time. The tasks Jim gave me at the start were simple enough. Most of them involved lifting things from one place to another. At first I tried doing it mindfully, by paying attention to each movement and touch as I lifted the sack or barrel and feeling the weight and texture in my hands.
Come on, what you doing?” Jim yelled from up at the farm house. “We’ll never be finished by lunch time if you keep that up!”
He was right. I wasn’t a monk any more. Now I was a farmer and farmers didn’t do mindfulness. Instead I just got on with it, getting things done as fast I could and let my thoughts flow however they liked.
It took weeks for me to be of any real use on the farm. I’d come to suspect that most of the jobs that Jim was giving me were more physical training than of any real use to him. Each night after work Jim and I would sit drinking a couple of beers together, before I clambered of to my little caravan and passed out from exhaustion. It felt great. There was something nice about doing a hard day’s work and earning my rest that I hadn’t felt for a long time.
It was a Friday lunchtime when Jim decided that we needed a break.
“Let’s go to the pub,” he said. “I think I owe you a decent meal and a pint.”
I think that Friday might have been the most satisfying meal I ever had. There’s something about a chunk of beef that no amount of soy beans is ever going to match. The beers and whiskeys that flowed after that were quite a treat as well and my head started to dance. Steadily, locals piled in and joined in the night of revelry. Lunch tables were put away and the restaurant section became more like a club.
Jim wasn’t much of the social type, but he had a couple of close friends that he found himself talking to and while I didn’t begrudge him their company, I felt lost in the detailed farm talk. So I walked around, drunk enough to introduce myself and make a little small talk with my neighbours.
Then I met Erin.
She must have been ten years younger than me. A pretty little girl with dark hair and constant smile. She wasn’t beautiful in the traditional sense, at least not like a model, but she looked homely. She wasn’t the woman that most men dreamed about, she was the woman they saw themselves marrying.
Now I am not the most handsome of men and nor was I at that time. But not being a local and my odd history did give me something of an exotic flavour. Or at least so the whisky in me told me and I walked over and introduced myself.
So you’re the reformed monk I’ve been hearing about,” she said as we found a place to set out of the way of the main revelry that was starting to border on boisterous in places.
“That I am.”
“Must be quite a shock being out here,” she said, “all those temptations that you have to resist.” For a moment her face was placid then she followed it up with a wicked smile. “Go buy me a drink.”
I rummaged in my pockets pulling out the last of my notes. The wages Jim gave me were little more than pocket change. I’d been hoping to make enough to sent back to cash the monastery had given me when I left, but there was always something to pay for, little places to where to cash was drawn before you had a chance to save it. Still at least I had enough for a glass of wine and another beer for myself.
We left the place shortly after that, stumbling together up the pitch black country roads towards Jim’s farm. It must have taken us hours, but it only felt like a few minutes.
Erin was not what I had expected. She was more than I had expected: smart sassy, confident. She had me double drunk.
Now I don’t normally go home to any boy’s caravan,” she said. “But it seems like it’s a girl’s duty for someone so recently back in the fold.” And with that she kissed me, then took my hand and led me inside.
I woke to the bright morning sun to find Erin already gone. She left a little note that said:

It was followed by a scrawl that I took to be her signature and her number.
As I got washed and dressed, I thought about her and how fantastic we would be together. I’d missed years of this and here was my chance to make it up again, maybe even a chance at a family.
It was a strange thought. I’d always said to myself that I’d never wanted a family or children. But suddenly it was all I wanted. It was the whole world. I’d put aside all my high minded attainments and rather than feeling empty, I felt full. I felt happy.
When I got out of the Caravan Jim was already working.
“Someone had a good night,” he called across to me. “Don’t worry I gave her a lift back to her folk’s house.”
I tried not beam a smile and failed. He just laughed at me. Then it hit me that if I wanted to see Erin I wasn’t going to be able to do it on the wages that Jim paid. Sure a caravan was quaint at first for a girl, but long term?
Jim,” I said. “You’ve been great to me, so I feel bad asking but…”
“You want to know if I can raise your wages?” he asked, “I wondered when it would happen. A girl seemed a likely time. Well you’re a hard worker so I can give you a little more, but to be honest with you Craig, you’re not going to get any more than that working as a farmhand. I’d be sad to lose you, but have you not got a trade you could go back to?” I’d been a bank clerk once, but who wants to hire someone more than ten years out of the job? In my days most of the filing had been on paper and I suspected things had moved on from there.
“Not really, at least nothing I could do now. Still thanks for the offer, it’ll help a bit.” It was a lie, the raise he was talking about would maybe let me buy an extra couple of beers on the weekend. It certainly had no long term future.
The thought riled me. Ten years for what? Nothing worthwhile, certainly nothing usable. Still at least things were getting better. At least I had a job and a girl. That was a start. Little steps, I told myself. Little steps.
When you’ve got some repetitive work to do there’s lots to fill your head with. Most times it’d be the voice on the radio or thinking over something Jim had said the night before. But after that night out, there was only one thing I could think about: Erin. She dominated every thought in my life. Every moment I worked, I was working for her and the few times I wasn’t thinking about her I was thinking of ways to get money so we could be together.
It was the following Tuesday night while Jim and I were drinking our beers that he handed me a couple of twenty pound notes.
“Alright you love sick puppy. Go and see her,” he said.
He didn’t need to tell me twice. “Thanks Jim,” I said. “I owe you.”
“That’s right you do.”
I pulled the paper out of my pocket and went to the phone and dialled her number. A woman’s voice on the other end answered.
“Oh she’s down at the pub I think,” said the older lady. She never asked who I was, but I could feel the curiosity.
“Thanks, no need to tell her I called.”I said, “I’ll go down there and see her.”
“Well tell her not to be late,” the woman warned. I guessed the warning was as much for me as it was her.
I walked, in fact half ran, down to the village, springing in through the door to find the place much quieter than I expected. I remembered it was a weekday and that there would be no party tonight. Quickly I scanned to room and spotted her. She was sitting at the bar by herself with a glass of house red.
“Erin,” I said, walking over to her. Her reaction wasn’t what I expected.
“Craig,” she said, glancing over at the bathroom and fiddling with the bag on her lap. “What you doing down here?” I notice the other drink beside her, an ale of some sorts.
“I came looking for you. I called, but…” I didn’t need to say any more, the look on her face gave me all the answers I needed.
“Craig, look I don’t know what to say. I’d had a fight with my boyfriend down in my uni in Leeds. I came home. He came up here to find me. Look I’m sorry I don’t know what to say.”
It was like a knife to stomach. I felt so stupid. A girl I had met once in a bar! I didn’t even know she was a university student. Who was this person I was talking to? Who was the person I had made in my head?
I understand,” I said, then walked through the little door at the back and into the little bar. I didn’t want to see him. Somehow I knew he would be nice. Someone I would like. That would make it all the harder.
Finding a corner by myself where I couldn’t see into the other room, I ordered as much whisky as I could drink with the money that Jim had given me.
I woke up the next day with a screaming headache. Somehow I had got back to the caravan. I remembered vaguely walking up the road in dark and yelling at the stars. I hoped I hadn’t woken anyone up or done anything real stupid. What an idiot I was.
I got up, washed, and changed my clothes and made my way out to start work. Once again Jim was already out and about. He never seemed to sleep much. He didn’t say a word, just gave me a nod and then pointed over at halve a dozen oil drums that he would need me to move into the store room.
What a fool I had been. How could I have made so much over one night of drunken sex?
I picked up the first drum, laden with the weight of my own thoughts and shambled into the store room with it. When I got to the second one, I moved slower. Feeling its real weight and feeling the touch of the metal against my hand. With the third one I moved slowly, watching all my movements and feeling everything that came in contact with me.

“And with craving pain follows.”

It came from somewhere inside me. Somewhere I had locked up when I left the monastery. But it was right wasn’t it? When I’d had nothing, wanted nothing I’d been happy. I’d been content to sleep at the roadside. I’d been content working away on Jim’s farm. It had been with me all the time. But I was losing it. Something I’d had all along, something so precious, I was starting to lose it.
I sat down on the muddy ground and started to meditate. It had been a long time, but it came back to me as naturally as breathing. My thoughts were gone. I was there, I was content and I understood. I had thought I was making progress in the monastery, but every day it had been there. It hadn’t been the raging river of change that I had hoped for. It had been the steady dripping of water that would, in time, wear away mountains. My time had not been wasted.
When I opened my eyes, Jim was sitting next to the barrels smoking a cigarette.
“So have you figured it out yet?” he asked.
“I figured something out,” I said
“Well that’s better than most manage in a life time,” he said letting out a puff of smoke. “So, when you going back?”
“Back?” I asked.
“To the monastery.”
“What makes you think I’m going back?” I asked.
“Well you’re not going to get much work done sitting around here like that,” he said, trying to hold back a grin, “Look the grass is always greener. That’s what I thought when it came to my missus, now she’s gone. And I don’t blame her. It took me too long to see what I was missing and to see what we had. Took me too long to work up the guts to go tell her I was sorry. Sometimes you’ve just got to admit that you were wrong.”


When I arrived that the Monastery I asked to see the Master. I was pointed to a seat where I could wait and I knew it would take some time. I smiled at the fact that I knew the place so well. I sat down to meditate while I waited and when my eyes opened, my old robe and an apple were sitting on the chair next to me. I put it on and walked into the meditation hall to join my brothers.